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What Would Happen if We Quarantined Forever?

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Remember the Disney movie ‘Tangled’, where the selfish Gothel locks up Rapunzel in a tower for 18 long years with no human contact? All Rapunzel wanted was to go outside and see the lanterns on her birthday. Now if you think about it, in a way, we have all been Rapunzel for the last two years, having to stay indoors because of the pandemic. (coincidentally, the name of the kingdom in Tangled is ‘Corona’.)

The pandemic, we know, has turned our life upside down, in ways more than one. What we thought was going to be a few months’ affair, has entered its third year of staying home. Initially, while some people (read: introverts) found it easier to stay indoors with minimal socialisation, now there might be a collective longing for socialisation and spending time outdoors. The constant worry, increased workload with work from home or online classes, house chores – all this while feeling distressed, has been overwhelming.

Due to being confined indoors, a lot of us have been experiencing signs of cabin fever – feeling restless, irritable, bored, lonely or at a lack of motivation. With a generation that loves to sit in front of screens for hours on end, we’d sure believe that we must be immune to cabin fever; but turns out, we are not. We can develop cabin fever after just a week and a half of being inside, and the pandemic has surely aggravated the situation.

Now, what would happen if we had to stay indoors for eighteen long years like Rapunzel, or worse, forever? How would it affect our body and health?

Effects on physical health

Our body has a self-regulating clock of its own. A lot of our functions and health is dependent on natural elements like sunlight and fresh air (more than we realise). Being exposed to sunlight organically alerts the body to stop producing melatonin, which regulates our circadian rhythm – our sleep-wake cycle, in simple words. But without exposure to sunlight, our body would keep producing melatonin, effectively reducing the levels of serotonin – the mood stabiliser, in our body. This would cause lethargy and feed into the feeling of being a ‘couch potato’.

Sunlight also provides our body with the much-needed vitamin D that strengthens our bones and is responsible for muscle regulation and overall optimal health.

Without regular exposure to sunlight, the body will miss out on natural Vitamin D which will lead to weaker bones. Over time, our immunity will weaken and this will cause adverse effects on our body like a higher vulnerability to fractured bones, tooth decay, and a higher risk of heart disease.

Not only the sun, but even fresh air is vital for our health. If you spend your days without cracking open a window for some air circulation, the air indoors will turn stale and five times more polluted than the air outside. The dust and pollutants from staying in airconditioned rooms for long durations can also harm your skin. The blue light from electronic device screens can cause skin damage, along with discolouration, inflammation on the skin, and weakening of the skin’s surface. It can cause sleeplessness, leading to puffy and tired eyes.

Staying indoors all day might make us feel hungrier or at least make us feel a need to constantly munch on something. If our choice of food to munch on will be junk or snacks, it might disturb our meal cycle and make us skip important meals. Along with all this, working from home or sitting for too long will hurt our spine, neck, put increased stress on back muscles, and cause poor posture.

Effects on mental health

We see that Rapunzel has to stay in the same place for such a long time with only Gothel’s company. The monotony of quarantine could have been a reason for her low mood, and further caused irritability, insomnia, and depression. Loneliness and monotony are related to depression, anxiety, high blood pressure, and heart diseases. Along with that, being in the same space with the same people constantly, might lead to conflicts with them, adding to our state of distress.

Like Rapunzel didn’t have social support, our social support will also be deferred due to not being able to meet our family, friends, or colleagues. Being alone, away from friends, family, or people, in general, along with prolonged hours of screen-based activities, may become a cause of developing social anxiety.

Tips to cope

These effects might feel overwhelming and overpowering. While some of these are effects of long-term quarantine like Rapunzel had to be in, we have also struggled with a few of us in the last two years. Hey, we know it sounds bad but even Rapunzel coped with the quarantine so here are some ways you can do it, too:

  • Open your windows. Rapunzel would start her day by opening her windows at 7am for some refreshing sunlight. You might not be able to go out but letting in some fresh air regularly helps circulate the stale air out and get you some sunshine. Just opening the windows of your house and mind can help you conquer the lethargy and make you feel refreshed.
  • Step it up. Exercising, or having a physically active day helps us maintain good energy levels. It also contributes to the release of happy hormones. Rapunzel used to engage in her household chores that kept her physically active.
  • Social support. Maintaining contact with loved ones is one of the best ways to remind yourself that we are all in this together. Gina Neff, an associate professor and senior fellow at the Oxford Internet Institute said: ‘Apps and websites cannot replace the communities that have always connected and supported us, but they can help diverse and dispersed groups coordinate care in unprecedented ways.’ Although during Rapunzel’s time, there weren’t provisions for zoom calls, she had a pet chameli who gave her company during the day. However, in this day and age, we can maintain contact with our friends from miles away! Planning virtual game nights and movie nights might be fun ways to stay in touch.
  • Shake up your routine. Rapunzel used to spend her day engaging in new activities like reading, knitting, painting etc. To deal with the monotony of quarantine, consider changing your routine once in a while. Engage in something that you find interesting like digging a different outfit from your wardrobe, trying to cook something if you don’t do it often, etc. There need not be a dramatic or complete change in routine; routines provide comfort, but a little tweak here and there might help.
  • Turn love inwards. Being surrounded by multiple stimulations can get overwhelming. Taking some time out for yourself and indulging in activities that bring you a sense of peace and happiness might help. Sleeping an hour extra, taking a needed day off from work, having a movie night with friends, having a solo movie marathon, reading an hour extra – whatever you need.
  • Wholesome diet. Maintaining a nutritious diet is essential during the lockdown. Home-cooked food not only helped to engage Rapunzel during the day but also ensured the intake of proper nutrients in her diet. It is normal to seek comfort food during such troubling times. However, indulging in them too often may contribute to low moods. You can set goals with a friend and check up on each other or use applications such as ‘MyFitnessPal’, ‘MyNetDiary’, etc.

It is also important to remember that changes and transitions take time and effort. Living through a pandemic is not an experience we were, or still are, prepared to live through. If only Gothel had been kinder to Rapunzel, she’d have been able to cope with quarantine better. So, remember to be kinder to yourself and others during the process and seek help whenever needed.

Sanchita Nagarajan and Nishtha Agarwal are humans. They have hands and feet. They also have eyes. 

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